If there’s one thing the TO THE MARKET team has learned as a woman-owned and female-driven company, it’s that it’s more than okay to talk about your accomplishments. If you want to achieve your dreams or you’re doing work you’re really proud of, the world needs to hear about it! So why do so many people find it hard to speak up about their talents?
Author Meredith Fineman has seen this phenomenon again and again throughout her career. As a speaker, writer, entrepreneur, PR professional, and host of sustainable fashion podcast It Never Gets Old, she regularly meets talented people who shy away from owning their accomplishments. Fineman’s new book, Brag Better, tackles this conundrum head on. The book is full of tips for helping the “Qualified Quiet” step into ways of speaking with pride about their accomplishments.
TO THE MARKET recently spoke with Fineman about her book, her work, and how to make your accomplishments heard. Take Meredith’s tips to heart, because your big ideas are about more than just you - they have the potential to change the world! If you ever felt you needed a permission slip to speak boldly about your goals, take Meredith’s tips as the green light you’ve been waiting for.
TO THE MARKET: How did you first realize there was a need for a book like Brag Better?
Meredith Fineman: I have my own company, FinePoint, and when I first started it, it was more of a traditional PR firm. I started to become the go-to for individual representation. As I was representing people I was noticing a pattern that I also noticed in other areas of my life, which is that nobody knew how to talk about themselves.
This is particularly egregious for women but i want to make clear that Brag Better isn’t just for women. It’s for a demographic that I called the Qualified Quiet: people who have done the work but just don’t know how to talk about This was clear for people who would come in and want to work with me, particularly young women, who wouldn’t know how to talk about the work that they had done. It happened with friends too, where we’d be at a networking event or out somewhere, and it was happening at a very high level with people I’d represented. So I was watching this whole trajectory and it really bothered me. I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t know what.
My aha moment happened in Las Vegas, in October of 2013. I was there for a friend’s conference, I was at the pool on the phone with a client. This client is an amazing person - very aspirational for a lot of different reasons, both personal and professional. And I booked her on TV, and she said to me, “I don’t know if i’m the best person to go on. There might be someone who knows more than I do.” And she was in a presidential administration on the topic. And she didn’t do it.
I hung up the phone and wrote her this impassioned note that she kind of brushed aside. Then my phone died, and if you’re ever at a pool in Vegas, you know there are no outlets. So I asked the cocktail waitress for a pen, and I wrote in the margin of the book I’d been reading. I wrote brag(art), with parentheses around art. The art of self-promotion. And I wrote a little outline. So for the past 7 years, I developed this idea consistently, and it evolved from that to Brag Better.
I’ve been speaking and training on why bragging and self-promotion and the habits of publicists matter in our world today. They matter for your professional goals, they matter for professional confidence. Whether that is bragging within an organization or promoting yourself so you get what you want publicly, whether that’s recognition, money, or something else. I still have individual clients, FinePoint is now a bit more of a leadership and professional development company that still has some media relations involved. And that’s where it all came from.
TTM: So it sounds like during this time you were doing all kinds of research.
MF: Yeah. I have developed my own exercises and programming. I really care that Brag Better communicates to people that not only are their accomplishments worth talking about, but that bragging is work. It’s an essential part of work - people don’t know what you’ve done until you tell them, but also they don’t know what you want until you ask for it.
One thing I’ve noticed as a writer and publicist, and being around the media for a really long time, is that we have this really intense relationship between volume and merit. We reward loud. As much as I’d like to be optimistic and say that we can get the loud people to be quiet, I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s just a matter of getting the Qualified Quiet, the people who have done the work, to talk about it. And I tell people it’s not a weakness to be a part of the Qualified Quiet, it’s a strength! It’s significantly more difficult to put in the time and the work, to know your stuff, than it is to talk about it. What I train and teach and write about is not rocket science, but it’s an important cherry on top so people can see what you’ve done to get you to the next phase of your career, or whatever else you decide you want.
TTM: And it seems that a lot of people don’t think of it that way, but it’s really needed.
MF: People who don't think that way are not alone. It’s what I do for a living and yeah, sometimes bragging feels really icky and feels really uncomfortable. So I figured out a system to alleviate that, because you’re missing out by not doing it - but there’s nobody telling you how. We have some people screaming, and then everyone else has no idea where to even begin. So I cared that Brag Better was aspirational and made you feel good, but I also really cared that it offered tips on what you do, and how you can do it right now. I cared that it was deeply tactical, because I think that’s what ends up helping people feel better about bragging.
TTM: Something great about the book is that you point out to readers that when you brag, you’re lifting up others too. How can the Qualified Quiet remind themselves that speaking out is good for everyone?
MF: So, a couple of things. We have very limited vocabulary to talk about our own accomplishments. “Brag” is one of the only words we have for what I'm talking about. So, bragging is stating true facts publicly, whatever that might mean - publicly is a lot of different things - so people can give you the acknowledgment that you want, whether that’s public acknowledgment like tv spots, internal acknowledgment like a raise, or fundraising.
Then there’s also the fact that we need better examples of people who know about the stuff that they’re talking about. It inspires other people. We can’t be what we can’t see, and all we’re seeing right now are people that aren't’ as qualified being very loud, and that ends up being a turnoff. Instead of shying away from it entirely, there’s a whole other way to do this that feels true to you. Sometimes it will be scary and sometimes it will be hard, and some people will have not nice things to say, but I also think that particularly in a time like now, we need people with the know-how and experience to talk about it and show others.
The book’s release was moved to June 16 from May 19 [due to the COVID-19 pandemic], so worked on an extra free chapter about how to brag better from home. Because that’s hard when you can’t get in front of people - but there are tons of ways to do it. It’s sort of unprecedented right now, and the subsequent extreme joblessness means that you have to be able to tout your stuff more than ever. I’m not saying that if you brag better the economy will get better, and you will just immediately get a job, and systemic quieting of voices that aren’t white men won’t happen anymore. But this is my contribution. Who we listen to in the world is layered with privilege, so a huge part of Brag Better is doing it for others, elevating the voices of other people, and paying it forward.
TTM: In your podcast you interview a lot of people who are high profile and accomplished. Do you find that even they have trouble bragging about themselves?
MF:Yes. I’ve talked to people who are true household names, and when I tell them what I do, they’ll say “Oh I need that” or “Oh I’m so bad at that.” There’s this misconception that you should know how to do these things, but you can learn them! I’ve taught them to myself, and I’ve taught them to so many other people. It’s funny, often the more accomplished you are, the harder time you have [bragging]. I think it’s that level of introspection and self awareness that makes you also question yourself, and that’s why we have some of these phenomena.
TTM: If somebody knows they have this problem, what is the first baby step they can take to improve along with reading Brag Better?
MF: Create a strong bio. I tell people to put a quarterly calendar reminder to update their bio. The bio is an original bragging spot that I do not see changing. That is where people expect you to brag. Every accomplishment, every major win, that’s where it goes. And I tell everyone that you need a long, a short, and a two-line bio. They all need to be consistent, you need to update them frequently, you need to put everything in there. It’s easier to do it once a quarter than to have to think back about everything you’ve done. So that’s a great first step, along with buying the domain of your name. You want to own that for a lot of different reasons, so it’s time to start thinking about a personal website.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.